Scarlett Archer

10 things about my writing life you might not know


Today is a personal blog post. I’m a bit sick of writing the technical stuff of book cover design so it’s time for a break. You’ve probably arrived here looking to learn something new about book cover design, but did you know I’ve been writing for over fifteen years?

Here are 10 things you might not know about me and my writing life:

Scarlett Archer1. My pen name is Scarlett Archer. Years ago it used to be Scarlett Marsden but I always got flack from people, saying “Did you get that from John Marsden?”

As a teenager, in Australia, in the John Marsden era this simply wouldn’t do so I used my nephew’s name for my last name. If you haven’t read the Tomorrow Series- the first being Tomorrow, When The War Began, get your hands on a copy ASAP.

You can check out my author website over at www.scarlett-archer.com . Don’t mistake me for Scarlet Archer (one t). Google is your friend, if you want to know why.

2. I’ve been writing since 1998. That’s fifteen years of writing. I’ve written over ten books, one is a four book series about the use of mental powers as the next step of human evolution, a cult culture, and the influence of belief. Sounds super boring but I promise, it’s not! It is on the back shelf however.

3. My first two books published are: 1001 First Lines and Oscar & Josephine. One is non-fiction, one is fiction.

1001 First Lines by Scarlett ArcherOscar and Josephine by Scarlett Archer

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. I’m a 7 year winner of NaNoWriMo, a 3rd year retiree. I’m still a little bit a part of the Melbourne community but it’s because I have so many friends involved with NaNo every year. If you’re looking to spend a November in a different city some time, Melbourne is the shiznit. We have drinkies, write-ins, and word wars aplenty!

5. In my first year I finished 50,000 words in a week, in second year it was 3 1/2 days, in my third year it was 2 1/2 days. I knew if I really stuck at it I could get it under 48 hours but pushing yourself that hard is quite a feat, and I all the work I was writing needed major rewrites and overhauls. I didn’t kid myself, NaNo is an editor-free zone and I don’t care what anyone says, the end result is pure dribble. It’s more important for me now to write quality, instead of quantity. 7 years of word-vomit is enough!

One year I might try doing only 1667 words a day, since that’s a pace I can write at that doesn’t destroy my inner editor, but not just yet. It is a great motivator though, and I’m a huge fan of word wars, so this November I’ve written about 10k more than I normally would have.

Wizard of Oz Dark Retelling by Scarlett Archer6. My current book is chick lit, about an artist in New York trying to get her break, and driving a taxi to get her by. My next book is either going to be my Wizard of Oz dark retelling (click on the poster to see it in full, and read the concept), or my next chick lit series about Paparazzi. Oz is taking some time to develop and research but it’s one of the big projects waiting for me.

I’m very strict on my writing process and only work on one WIP (work in progress) at any time, until it’s finished.

I used to write down all my ideas and start them the moment they struck but I’ve learned over time that if the story is worth writing it will stick around and flourish, so that when the work I’m doing now is completed it will be sitting there waiting for me.

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark7. Although I’ve been writing for fifteen years, my writing has only crossed the line from ‘unpublishable’ to ‘publishable’ in the past three. This isn’t because of lack of practice, oh no. I hit my 1 million words back in 2003 or so. It’s a combination of experience, skill, and understanding. The biggest contributors were:

8. I’m really good at shutting off my inner editor. In my first (and often second and third) draft it is just about getting the story down and in the right order. When writing, the editor knows what will happen should they decide to approach.

brucelee

This has helped me with NaNoWriMo, but also allows me to focus on what the real issue is in the moment, rather than being distracted due to spelling errors, awkward sentences and mixed up descriptions. Editing has it’s time later on, but right now it’s not allowed in the zone.

9. I love editing. I’m sorry, I think I’m a freak amongst writers but I do love editing. I didn’t always, until about year 8 when I really got a grasp on the true potential of editing and what it meant for my work.

The best piece of writing advice I ever heard was:

There is no such thing as a good writer, only a good rewriter.

There’s no writer who has a perfect first draft, and those that say they have a perfect first draft are lying. It’s very possible they worked and reworked a scene until it was completely finished before moving on to the next one, but that’s editing. That means your book still goes through drafts before it is finally finished.

When the first, second and/or third draft is done then I’m ready to work through the editing process. I normally go through 6-7 edits before it’s finally finished. This can often take longer than writing the manuscript in the first place but it is just as important. My first, and sometimes, last, line edit rounds I do back to front. I got this advice given to me in year 5 or so of writing and I’ve never looked back. Editing back to front means you don’t get caught up in the story and are forced to focus on the structure of each line.

kramer

10. I write my ideas in the shower. Whiteboard marker + shower tiles = great brainstorming session. The shower is the deep cocoon of pure inspiration, that’s where all the best ideas come from. If you need to write yourself out of a corner, take a shower. If you need to figure out the next scene for your book, take a shower. It’s sort of like each shower is the end of the writer’s rainbow, you just gotta tap into it.

Writing is in my blood, it’s my first love. Although I’m dedicated to design and business, I’m home when I have my WIP in front of me, a cup of tea by my side, and some music playing.

What are some things about your writing life nobody knows? Do you have any secret or hidden habits you have, or things that dramatically improved your story telling?

5 steps to having a great life as a creative


The golden doors are open, self-publishing has given millions of authors the chance to turn their passion into a full time job. Are you someone who has taken a hold of the great chance to help other authors? We’re now seeing a boom in:

  • Editors
  • Formatters
  • Designers
  • Marketing experts
  • Social Media Managers
  • Publishers

They were 9-5’ers until recently and now they get the chance to live the life doing what they love. So if you want to be one of these people, or you are one and want to keep this snowball rolling, what are the most important things to keep in mind?

I’ve been running Scarlett Rugers Design since 2011, and I wanted to share with you what helps me. I’ve got a bit of experience under my belt, and there’s no use to having knowledge if you can’t share it and put it into practice. So let’s begin…

inner chaosStep 1: Get rid of the shit in your life

We all got shit in our lives, and now is the time to get it out. I’m talking mental shit, emotional shit, physical shit… as in… stuff on your desk.

ANYWAY, just like in our homes our brains get clogged up with old habits, beliefs, and narratives that make us feel like crap and slow us down. Now is the time to toss it. You don’t need it. No matter how much you think you need these thoughts:

  • I’m not good enough
  • I can’t do it
  • I’m too tired
  • There’s too much happening
  • I don’t have time
  • I don’t have the knowledge
  • I’ll just end up failing

Let me ask you- do these thoughts actually help you? They wear nice clothes and pretend to be your friend but honestly, what is the worst that could happen if you tell them to f**k off? You might… you might try and do things. You might try new things, or revisit old projects you haven’t finished. You might end up… accomplishing something. HELL YES.

You are allowed to be in control of your own mind, and your life.

trust yourselfStep 2: Trust yourself. Do things that help build your self confidence and self esteem

You got your own back. You’ve come into this business because you know you can do it, something inside you tells you that, so listen.

Being a creative means there will be a constant flow of feedback for your work, that’s what comes with working in this industry. You create something for someone, and get their feedback on whether they like it or not. You know what? Sometimes they aren’t, and that’s okay.

So you need to do things which will help you build more trust in yourself, and build your self confidence. When you wake up in the morning and have to face your clients you know you have everything under control, and whatever shit hits the fan you’ve got Captain America’s shield to protect you.

Get positive reinforcement from others in your industry, bounce ideas off friends and family, do things you enjoy and love. Tell yourself, in the mirror, that you are capable. Not just capable, but good at what you do, and always getting better.

Why do you love your jobStep 3: Remember why you love what you do, because there will be days you won’t.

There are two people who get into business:

1. Those that love business for business and find something to match it with to get things started.

2. Those that turn their hobby into a profession

Today I’m talking to all you 2’s. For the first 6-12 months you’re going to be on a high. You will come to your self-made office (dining table, home office, lounge room…) and get to work and be in total bliss. Then things will take a turn.

Not dramatically, but very very slowly the other portions of business will creep in. Admin, organization, customer service, marketing, budgeting. And then you may feel the pressure of dealing with constant feedback from clients, both good and bad, both brilliant and disastrous. Slowly what you loved to do now becomes just another job. You no longer run your own business, but you come to work and get through as much as you can, on 15 hour days, working through weekends, sacrificing family and friend time.

A lot of business don’t get past year 2, because the realities of what it takes to run a business set in. It’s really important to find ways to remind yourself why you love doing what you do. This might include:

  • Loving the process of creating something
  • Helping author’s being the best they can be
  • Setting your own work hours and rules.
  • Flexibility of running your own business
  • Learning new things

Whatever it is that helps you remember why you love what you do, write it down and revisit it often. Have gratitude for being able to earn money, and live, off what you love.

Step 4: Challenge yourself and learn new stuff. Do things that scare you.

There is nothing that will bring on a quicker death than stagnation. It is important as a business, and an individual, to keep learning, growing, and doing shit that scares the ever living daylights out of you. When you grow inside, everything will grow with you. When you accept was is and don’t attempt anything new, everything will be covered under dust.

Like attracts like, so get out there and start liking things!

Set goalsStep 5: Have goals.

If you don’t know where you’re going you won’t get there. Have short term and long term goals. There doesn’t have to be many, don’t worry, but at least 1 or 2. Now is the time for daydream, where do you want to be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Let the fantasies flow forth, and start figuring out how to get there. This life won’t just fall into your lap, you gotta go out and get it.

Each of these steps together create an awesome formula. Sometimes one step will be more important than another, sometimes you’ll neglect some entirely, but just circle back to them every few weeks or so. There’s no set way to approach these, just work through them in a way that you feel works best for you. That’s the beauty of running your own business, you get the final say.

What are some other things you think could be added to the list? What has worked best for you to having a great life as a creative?

Writing Great Characters

How to make a Buffy: 3 things you must do if you want a massive fandom of your fiction


Do you love Buffy? Great. No? Then read on anyway. My article can cover pretty much any well respected, fan crazy TV show. Breaking Bad, The Wire, The West Wing, Buffy, Stargate, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Dr Who… You decide, now let’s move on.

When you want your readers to go batshit crazy over your books, and they aren’t your mother or your husband or your best friend, there are three things you must do to get there. I’m not saying this guarantees you a place on the Golden Throne of Awesomeness but if you work hard enough then the readers will follow, with love and adoration and screaming and strange gifts will turn up on your doorstep with an odd ticking sound inside and smelling of 2 week old yoghurt…

What are the three things? Well, let’s not waste any more time!

1. The first thing you must do if you want dedicated and obsessed fans: write strong characters.

What’s the main link between all of these great TV shows? Characters. If there was no plot a new one would appear without much effort. Characters drive the plot. Let’s use some examples:

When Red Letter Media analysed the first three Star Wars movies he sat three people down and asked them to describe the characters (click Qui-Gon Jinn and watch the video from 6m39s):
starwars

You can see that compared to the first (well, still consider them the first) three Star Wars movies that there is no clear definition as to who the characters are or their true roles.

Writing Great Characters

 

We know who these characters are. It is because of their character that there is plot. So we must ask ourselves, what makes a good character? From my own experiences and analysis these points are vital:

  • They have weaknesses
  • Their weaknesses sometimes cause shit to happen
  • They have the courage- even if they don’t believe it- to overcome what they most fear
  • They have beliefs, and opinions, and not everyone likes them or hates them
  •  Defined, distinct traits that make them who they are (desperation, naivety, intelligence through suffering, cheerfulness in the face of death).

This is not the only thing that ensures a good character, but one I’ve found time and time again in all the great characters that I love. The more I write the more I’m unafraid to let my readers dislike my characters- and it’s THAT which has propelled me forward.

I spent so many of my years writing characters I wanted everyone to love. You can’t. You can’t do that. Not everyone is going to like them, just like there is not a single person on the face of the Earth who is loved by everyone, right? So why are we trying to make this blank canvas of a person all fluffy and nice and whimsical? Because we want our readers to love them.

If your character has a conflict, and they sometimes fail before overcoming that conflict, and then they rise up there is a really, really good chance people will love your character. Heisenberg was the evilest bastard who ever lived (exaggeration I know) but that ending was so, so sweet.

A great way to find out who your character is, is to get them talking. Which leads me to point number 2…

2. The second thing you must do if you want dedicated and obsessed fans: write great dialogue.

Narrative is good, but dialogue is great. Done well together they are unstoppable.

Django Unchained

My characters used to ramble. I thought that by having them talk like talked, and say the things that said they would be more realistic. But that’s not the case.

No character should ever talk like a normal human being does. It’s as boring as all hell.

Each word that goes into your manuscript should be there for a purpose, and if it has no purpose it should be scrapped- the same can be said for dialogue.

  • Your character should not ask how someone’s day is unless it is vital to the story.
  • Your character should not ramble on the telephone unless it adds to the plot.
  • Your character should not make small talk, or out of the blue compliments, or offensive remarks unless it is plot or character building.

Pulp FictionIf you do this, you will bore your reader. It’s boring to write and it’s boring to read. If you don’t know what I mean go and watch your favourite movies and listen to them, hear what they’re really saying. One of the masters is Quentin Tarantino, writer and director of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and, more recently, Django Unchained (in my opinion his finest work).

Other masters of dialogue:

  • Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
  • Kevin Smith
  • Joss Whedon (Obviously)
  • Vince Gilligan
  • Monty Python
  • Woody Allen
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • William Goldman
  • The Coen Brothers

3. The third thing you must do if you want dedicated and obsessed fans: your characters should fail, and the higher the stakes the better.

Vulnerability allows us to connect with your character. It not only acts as a conduit between you and the character, but heightens the stakes for what there is to lose, and the possibility of losing it. Nobody likes a perfect Mary-Sue.

One major fault-free character is Dexter. Look, bare with me here.

For people who follow Dexter:

dexterI know how it all ended, and I was a lover of Dexter right from the very start. But around season 4 or 5 I lost it… We were going through the same loops and it was obvious Dexter had no real consequences to face. He was doing the same old shit, and even though Trinity came up and faced him in the office in one of the most epic moments in the whole series… what the hell happened? Nada. Nothing. Not a thing.

Where was his weakness? Where did he truly fail? Where was the point where I thought… oh God, this is it, he’s going to get caught? That was way back in series 1.

For people who don’t follow Dexter:

Dexter dived around season 4 after it repeated the same conflicts without resolving them, and Dexter I feel that Dexter never truly faced his consequences.

Failing at things gives us opportunities to learn, it makes us humble and grateful, causes us to reconsider where we are in life, and provides suffering which, without it, we would never succeed, overcome, or change. 

One of the greatest failures: Walter White in Breaking Bad. That is the ultimate rise and fall of a man.

heisenberg

There we have it, the top 3 things you must do if you want a big readership, and dedicated readers. Of course this is just one person’s opinion so, as always, take what you think works for you and leave the rest. And there are many other things you need to do to build a readership but when I break it down, these are right up there at the top of the list for me.

What do you think should be added to this list? What are methods or techniques you’ve used, in or outside of writing, that has helped you boost your readership?